Tips for after the storm
DCDPP Secratary Sandy Semans Ross
Following Hurricane Irene in 2011, both Beth Midgett and I worked with a lot of homeowners to help them find their way through the process of getting claims submitted so that they could receive their insurance settlements. Comparing notes about problems with the adjusters – particularly for flood insurance but some of the other policies as well – a pattern of problems appeared. And there were other problems that arose for some home and business owners. Following are tips that may help you get what you are legally due while maintaining a little of your sanity..
Bits and Pieces
- Document, document, document! Don’t have to wait for the adjuster to start tearing out wet carpets and possessions IF you take photographs of all damage before you start removing things. Remember to include the insides of cabinets, drawers, boxes, etc. so that the contents also can be covered. Take pictures of roofs, outbuildings damaged, food in freezers and refrigerators that has to be thrown out. If in doubt, take a picture anyway.
- Keep receipts for all out-of-pocket expenses for lodging, food, clean up supplies – any expense caused by the storm – most carriers will cover those.
- If someone purporting to be a contractor shows up at your door and wants to do repairs right then, beware! Many come in from other areas and scam homeowners. They claim to need money up front to buy materials and then are never seen again. Use only those contractors who can provide references – and take the time to check them – builders license, and proof of bonding. Also if needed, make sure you have the proper building permits to allow the work. Electrical and plumbing repairs should only be done by a licensed electrician or plumber and with the proper permit and county inspection. This sometimes was a problem when using volunteer labor – often they didn’t know the regulations here so walls had to be taken back out so that the work could be inspected after a licensed contractor checked over the volunteer work.
- There are private adjusters that can provide proof of loss. They take a percentage of the settlement amount so haggle for the very last dime. This can be good but make sure that the check is written to you and not them. There were instances when the checks went to private adjusters who left with the proceeds. But there are some good local ones so ask for and check references and then decide whether to use the insurance carrier’s adjusters or to hire your own.
- Few will find the process of recovery short so take a minute to breathe deep and know that there is an end of the road. It really helps to make a list of what needs to be done and the order in which the items should be accomplished. Each day, mark off those items taken care of and it will remind you that you are making progress.
- Call insurance carrier and request they send out an adjuster and briefly describe what is damaged so that they send one who is qualified to adjust your particular claim. Most property owners have three policies – wind and hail which is the state’s Beach Plan that only covers wind damage on the outside. If there is roof damage and water, debris or other damage is done inside, below the roof, then Homeowners insurance usually kicks in And if there is damage from flood waters, then Federal Flood Insurance Program kicks in. Some adjusters are licensed for all three but often it will take more than one adjuster to do proof of loss on a single property.
- If there is no contact with an adjuster within a couple of days to set up an appointment, call the carrier back and let them know. Don’t be afraid of being persistent about getting one out ASAP. Following Hurricane Irene, adjusters showed up right away from the big adjustment companies but suddenly left the area after the storm hit the northeast. If you are not persistent, even though they have been to your property, it can take weeks or in some cases, months to receive the proof of loss needed to get compensation. As the water drains out of the inland areas and there is access into hard-hit places west of us, the same could happen again.
- When the adjuster shows up, ask for identification, and write down their address and contact information. Also find out who their employer is and note it. If assessing flood damage, ask if they are certified to do so! Colonial Claims adjusters were sent in following Hurricane Irene and many had never been trained and weren’t certified. Beth and I found the adjusters manual online and by the time we were finished, we became well versed. The link is below – if you open up the index, you can find the part that pertains to your situation. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/2675
- Each adjuster has a computer that they input information about your losses. Ask them to show you that it is set for this area! Those working for big adjustment companies go from disaster to disaster. They are supposed to change it as they change locations to reflect local prices but sometimes they forget and it can cause your damage monetary value to be much lower than it actually is. I think that here, they are supposed to use Elizabeth City prices.
- Problems with valuing structures. If the computers aren’t set to the right area, it can grossly affect the amount that they claim is the value of your home. You may think it is $100,000 but they determine it is $150,000. Don’t get excited and think your structure has appreciated! If your flood insurance coverage is on the $100,000 but the appraisal is accepted at $150,000, then your insurance coverage is less than 80 percent of the value. This will allow them to DISCOUNT all materials and cost you a ton of money. If this happens, ask that it be refigured. If they balk, most of the time it is worth the money to get a private appraiser to appraise the property. You can contest the proof of loss by submitting the new appraisal.
- Heat pumps. One of the travesties for which we could find no solutions is that these fall under flood insurance if outside which most likely is the case. The flood program will pay for replacement of the heat pump but not the air handling system inside. Often there is nothing wrong with the air handler but it is not compatible with the new heat pump. Although the flood insurance program states that flood insurance is supposed to make property owners “whole” they refuse to pick up the cost for the compatible air handling portions of the systems.
- If your proof of loss contains or omits anything that you disagree with, appeal it! Don’t panic and accept what you feel is an unfair or incorrect amount. I helped a homeowner appeal a claim eight times and when the final was accepted, the amount had more than doubled so be willing to keep fighting.
There is a lot to accomplish in the weeks ahead and my prayers are with you. I also am appalled that no mandatory evacuation was called for visitors before the storm hit. Many of those with substantial damages are trying to take care of themselves and visitors. Many visitors have jumped in to help with clean up and repairs and that is wonderful. But an increase in population when dealing with this type of crisis is a huge burden on fire departments and other responders trying to deal wit their own storm-related problem. The response of agencies since the storm passed – Coast Guard, FEMA, county employees, Salvation Army and more has been inspiring. But we had no leadership from the Board of Commissioners in front of the storm. We can’t afford a third storm with these kind of problems. So no matter how much lies ahead, you need to vote! Vote for John Towler, Monica Thibodeau, Rosemarie Doshier and Danny Couch for commissioner – let’s get folks in who answer to constituents.